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Good Practice Advice - Drones and Wildlife

The increasing popularity in the use of recreational drones creates potential conflict through encounters with Scotland’s wild birds and animals.

What the Law Says

Wild birds and animals are vulnerable to disturbance during the breeding season and particularly when they have dependent young, therefore the law affords protection during these times.  The level of protection afforded varies depending upon the rarity and vulnerability of the species but includes both reckless and intentional acts:

  • The active nests of all wild birds are legally protected from damage and destruction and anything that would prevent them being accessed or used.
  • Some species, including most raptors and certain mammals are also protected from disturbance while they are using a nest or breeding site.
  • Golden eagle, white-tailed eagle, hen harrier, red kite and all European Protected Species of mammal, are protected from harassment at any time, not just within the breeding season.

The principles of ‘disturbance’, ‘prevention (from use)’ and ‘harassment’ remain the same, irrespective of the means in which this is carried out. It is important to remember that physical intervention is not necessary in order to constitute an offence under these terms, and that both sound and visual deterrents can also result in offences.

Guidance for Drone Operators

Drone operators should be aware of the risks in operating drones in the vicinity of wild birds and animals, take steps to minimise any likely impacts and know what to do in the event of an encounter.

The following simple steps will help mitigate the risk of drones affecting wildlife.  This list is not exhaustive and is intended as a minimum checklist.  Further information is available from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Do’s and Don’ts

Green tick - 2 toneDo follow the CAA Drone Code

Green tick - 2 toneDo avoid known breeding sites especially those used by Schedule 1 birds and protected mammals

Green tick - 2 toneDo avoid likely breeding sites, particularly in spring and summer months

Green tick - 2 toneDo maintain a safe (disturbance) buffer zone around any wildlife 

Green tick - 2 toneDo consider that disturbance zones will vary between species and some individuals will be more tolerant than others

Green tick - 2 toneDo consider both horizontal and vertical distances

Green tick - 2 toneDo abort a flight immediately if the drone is attacked by a bird or animal

Green tick - 2 toneDo retreat to a safe distance if a bird or animal is disturbed

Green tick - 2 toneDo retreat to a safe distance if a bird or animal approaches the drone

Green tick - 2 toneDo recognise that disturbance is any change in the normal behavior of a bird or animal

Green tick - 2 toneDo contact SNH Licensing if considering using a drone for bird and animal wildlife photography purposes

Red cross - 2 toneDon't use drones to monitor bird and animal breeding and nesting sites, unless under licence from SNH

Red cross - 2 toneDon't use drones near livestock


If you suspect an offence has been committed relating to the use of drones and wild birds, animals or any other form of wildlife crime, report it as soon as possible to Police Scotland on 101.